Birmingham Unicorns: Trailblazing LGBT+ inclusive cricket club who want to make sport open for all | Cricket News


Last summer history was made as the LGBT+ teams Birmingham Unicorns and Graces played in Birmingham (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

Birmingham Unicorns are thought to be only the second LGBT+ inclusive cricket club in the world. The popular idea to form the club came during lockdown in 2020 with the new members first meeting on Zoom but now training at Edgbaston.

The team are set to play in their second full season, and its founding member will soon join Warwickshire’s Members Committee to improve the cricket county’s inclusion and diversity.

On their website the Unicorns describe the team as “a place where all LGBTQ+ people and their allies can come to play cricket, be themselves and socialise with others from the community. We encourage everyone to be themselves, free of judgement, giving all the opportunity to be part of a cricketing family”.

In less than 18 months, the Birmingham Unicorns went from Zoom meetings to a social to meet each other to practising together, and then playing their first match against Graces who were the world’s first LGBT+ club.

Birmingham Unicorns vs Graces was a 40-over match in Birmingham (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

Birmingham Unicorns vs Graces was a 40-over match in Birmingham (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

The idea for a new club came from Lachlan Smith who is now the founder and chair of the Midlands team.

He told Sky Sports News: “It all started in the first Covid lockdown. I was aware that everybody was feeling isolated, people were having mental health problems. And I know for the LGBT+ community that can be particularly profound and it was at the time.

“As a cricketer myself, I thought playing sports is a great way to help you with your mental health. And if I could open the doors for more LGBT+ people to play cricket, that would be great.

“But I thought who knows whether people actually want to do it?”

The historic match on June 13 was also streamed on YouTube (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

The historic match on June 13 was also streamed on YouTube (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

Smith was surprised by the interest from the first survey he carried out. He said: “People found out about the club or the idea for the club and they wanted to join.

“It snowballed from there and so here we are two years later, about to enter our second season, and we’re a club that focuses on enabling LGBT+ people to play cricket in a supportive environment.”

The club also welcome those who are not from similar backgrounds, who they describe as “allies”.

“It’s not just for the LGBT community. Anybody can come and play for us, particularly if they’re new to the sport and don’t quite know where to start. We try to provide an environment where people can have a go,” Smith added.

Birmingham Unicorns chair Lachlan Smith hopes more members join the team

Birmingham Unicorns chair Lachlan Smith hopes more members join the team

Hattie Wright, one of approximately 20 playing members, praises the atmosphere at the newly-formed club.

She said: “You just need to look around [training] there’s smiles, there’s happiness. Everyone just feels joy, liberated. There’s no airs and graces about anything. We’re family here.

“We haven’t known each other two years yet. We first all met together on a social event with the Graces team from down south. And that was the first time we met face to face. We’ve seen each other on Zoom, but it’s like we’ve known each other all our lives. That unity you can’t get anywhere else.”

An historic match: Birmingham Unicorns CC v Graces CC

On June 13 two LGBT+ teams faced each other for the first time when Graces, based in London, faced Birmingham Unicorns.

Before the historic match ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said: “It’s really fantastic to see two teams like Graces and Unicorns – teams formed with LGBTQ+ inclusion at their heart – joining together to take part in this historic match.

“Teams like Graces and Unicorns, and events like Sunday’s, can play a big role in helping to further welcome LGBTQ+ cricket fans and cricket players alike, and I’m really excited about the game of cricket coming together to break down barriers and become more inclusive.”

The 40-over match took place at Weoley Hill Cricket Club in Birmingham. Graces made 227-8 in their innings thanks to a century from Matt Earl. Birmingham Unicorns fell 39 runs short as they finished on 189-6.

Smith says their first match as a new team against Graces was a big success (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

Smith says their first match as a new team against Graces was a big success (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

The match was also streamed on YouTube with over 1,500 views and dozens of good luck messages for the players.

We had commentators there commentating. The game was live streamed. We had viewers all over the world, significant viewers in parts of Asia and India as well, which was fantastic,” Smith told Sky Sports News.

“But it just felt like it was the first step in making a real change in cricket.”

Stephen Hallam, treasurer for the Unicorns, has been surprised by the huge level of interest in the team.

He said: “I had no idea it was as groundbreaking as it was, and hopefully it will start to spur other clubs around the country. There will definitely be demand in other cities.

The club committee for the Unicorns was only formally put together in March 2021 (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

The club committee for the Unicorns was only formally put together in March 2021 (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

“We’ve got quite a wide range in terms of location where people come from. It’s not just Birmingham it’s all over the West Midlands, so hopefully there’ll be lots more clubs follow our leads. That’s the aim for the future.

Discrimination, Edgbaston and top-class coaching

Warwickshire’s chief executive Stuart Cain praised the work of the Birmingham Unicorns for being an open and inclusive place to play cricket.

He said: “You have to give people a safe and welcome environment. And so I think to say there’s a club that understands the LGBTQ community, it welcomes and it creates a safe environment for them to play, helps them step over the threshold and start playing club cricket.

Warwickshire chief executive Stuart Cain reveals the county's new Multifaith charter and says Azeem Rafiq's evidence inspired the county to act and not talk about their diversity plans

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Warwickshire chief executive Stuart Cain reveals the county’s new Multifaith charter and says Azeem Rafiq’s evidence inspired the county to act and not talk about their diversity plans

Warwickshire chief executive Stuart Cain reveals the county’s new Multifaith charter and says Azeem Rafiq’s evidence inspired the county to act and not talk about their diversity plans

“And then once they’re doing that, it makes other clubs realise, this is just another form of people that just love cricket, regardless of their background and who they are and what they are.”

Smith says his experience of playing cricket has been largely positive but says even though he has played at supportive clubs, a few bad experiences for players can “niggle at and wear away at you”.

He added: “The environment in which they’re playing there might be banter or conversation or things said which are inherently homophobic, transphobic or biphobic, and that just makes it feel like you can’t come out.

“And I certainly experienced that for a few years before I came out as a cricketer, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to because the environment doesn’t feel quite right. A lot of the language used by my team-mates, by club members, by opposition players made me feel uncomfortable in the sport.

Molly was an interested spectator for Birmingham Unicorns' first match  (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

Molly was an interested spectator for Birmingham Unicorns’ first match (Pictures courtesy Graces CC)

“So although it wasn’t directed at me, it was sort of the wider environment that made it a bit more uncomfortable.”

Warwickshire made a commitment to help the Birmingham Unicorns which has included coaching sessions with first-team coach Mark Robinson and director of cricket Paul Farbrace.

Cain said: “Last year we helped them in terms of profile and platform, so we raised awareness with our social channels and through the website that Unicorns existed. Then through the cricket board we helped them get set up with kit and getting off the ground. So a lot of people stepped forward then and joined the club. We helped with access to the cricket centre.

“Mark Robinson and Paul Farbrace came down and took coaching sessions which I’m not sure if that scared or helped!

The LTA has launched the Pride in Tennis network, for players, coaches, volunteers, officials, and fans to help feel included in the sport. People director Vicky Williams says achieving equality in tennis for all is a must

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The LTA has launched the Pride in Tennis network, for players, coaches, volunteers, officials, and fans to help feel included in the sport. People director Vicky Williams says achieving equality in tennis for all is a must

The LTA has launched the Pride in Tennis network, for players, coaches, volunteers, officials, and fans to help feel included in the sport. People director Vicky Williams says achieving equality in tennis for all is a must

“And then Lachlan Smith will be joining our Members Committee in the next couple of months. So he’ll sit right at the top of the club in terms of helping us understand and advise us on making sure that Edgbaston, the Cricket Centre, the Academy just feels a safe and welcome place for all.

Cain was speaking to Sky Sports News during a training session at Edgbaston for the Unicorns and has a vision for the city’s first LGBT+ inclusive team.

“The ambition is that they’ll play in the league in the next two to three years and then after that hopefully should get to a point where you don’t need specialist teams, but you’ve raised awareness enough that everyone feels safe and welcome regardless of the team.”

‘Rafiq’s experiences made us act quicker’

Warwickshire recently became one of the first sporting organisations to announce a new Multifaith charter.

It was created with input from representatives from Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jain, Judaism and Sikhism in the West Midlands.

Azeem Rafiq's evidence made Warwickshire act quicker, according to their chief executive Stuart Cain

Azeem Rafiq’s evidence made Warwickshire act quicker, according to their chief executive Stuart Cain

The club have promised to learn more about “the needs of different faiths” and create “a safe, welcoming environment for players, staff and visitors”.

Alongside this they will have “tangible initiatives to drive inclusivity regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, class, social mobility, neural or physical ability”.

Cain says hearing the recent powerful evidence from Azeem Rafiq has pushed them to act quicker.

He said: “We’d already started our journey to make sure that we reflect the communities that we serve in the offices, on the terraces and on the field.

“But I think what happened with Azeem Rafiq just showed us that we haven’t done enough and we weren’t moving fast enough. So it just gave us a fresh impetus really to get behind some of this stuff and not talk about it, but just do it.

“So it’s about actions, isn’t it? What we’ve done with the Unicorns, what we’ve done with a multi-faith charter, what we’re going to do at Edgbaston next season in terms of the way that will change things.

“They’re just small steps on a journey that never ends. I don’t think you can ever get your head around this properly and sit back and relax and go ‘we’ve done a great job here’.

Comedian Rosie Jones joined up with reporter Mark McAdam in the latest episode of  'I'm Game', to put West Ham Women through their paces in support of the Rainbow Laces campaign

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Comedian Rosie Jones joined up with reporter Mark McAdam in the latest episode of ‘I’m Game’, to put West Ham Women through their paces in support of the Rainbow Laces campaign

Comedian Rosie Jones joined up with reporter Mark McAdam in the latest episode of ‘I’m Game’, to put West Ham Women through their paces in support of the Rainbow Laces campaign

“I think you just got to keep learning, keep listening, keep talking and keep changing. And hopefully what we want to get to is over six, 12, 18, 24 months people look back and go: ‘Yeah it feels different at Edgbaston’.”

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